Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The embodied nature of meaning and metaphor

BODY AWARENESS by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

Extract from notes first presented at The Developing Group, 25 September 2004

6. The embodied nature of meaning and metaphor

Mark Johnson in The Body in the Mind makes the case that:

"The centrality of human embodiment directly influences what and how things can be meaningful for us, the ways in which these meanings can be developed and articulated, the ways we are able to comprehend and reason about our experience, and the actions we take. Our reality is shaped by the patterns of our bodily movements, the contours of our spatial and temporal orientation, and the forms of our interactions with objects. It is never merely a matter of abstract conceptualizations and propositional judgements.

Human bodily movement, manipulation of objects, and perceptual interactions involve recurring patterns without which our experience would be chaotic and incomprehensible. They are gestalt structures, consisting of parts standing in relations and organized into unified wholes, by means of which our experience manifests discernible order. When we seek to comprehend this order and to reason about it, such bodily based schema play a central role." (p. xix)

"Through metaphor, we make use of patterns that obtain in our physical experience to organise our more abstract understanding. Understanding via metaphorical projection from the concrete to the abstract makes use of physical experience in two ways. First, our bodily movements and interactions are structured, and that structure can be projected by metaphor onto abstract domains. Second, metaphorical understanding is not merely a matter of arbitrary fanciful projection from anything to anything with no constraints. Concrete bodily experience not only contrails the "inputs" to the metaphorical projections but also the nature of the projections themselves, that is, the kinds of mappings that can occur across domains." (p. xv)

For example,
"Balancing is an activity we learn with our bodies and not by grasping a set of rules or concepts. First and foremost, balancing is something we do. The baby stands, wobbles, and drops to the floor. It tries again, and again, and again, until a new world opens up — the world of balanced erect posture.

We also come to know the meaning of balance through the closely related experience of bodily equilibrium, or loss of equilibrium. We understand the notion of systemic balance in the most immediate, preconceptual fashion through our bodily experience. There is too much acid in the stomach, the hands are too cold ... Things are felt as 'out of balance.' There is 'too much' or 'not enough' so that the healthy organization of forces, processes, and elements is upset " (pp. 74-75)

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